EAST LANSING, Mich. — One night removed from getting everything it could handle from St. Lawrence, No. 9 Michigan State needed goalscoring galore to put Sacred Heart away by a 7-5 final.
“It’s human nature to let down a bit, but it wasn’t like (Sacred Heart) ever dominated us,” said MSU coach Rick Comley. “We just got a bit sloppy and (SHU) never quit and did some good things.”
The scoring came in bunches and the swings were quite violent, as MSU jumped out 5-0, SHU made it 5-3, MSU doubled its lead to 7-3, and SHU scored the final two for the final score.
“Every goal we scored we felt that we could keep coming at them. They’re a great team and we had to make adjustments and find ways to take some of the pressure off,” said SHU coach Shaun Hannah.
“Even though we were up 5-0, they came back pretty nice,” said MSU assistant captain Ethan Graham. “We need to concentrate on burying teams and not let them come back like that.”
Sophomore center Nick Sucharski notched a pair of goals to lead MSU.
“It’s a great start to the season compared to last year when I was struggling a bit. It’s a big confidence boost. It shows that coach has a lot more confidence in me as a player as well and that’s a big character boost,” said Sucharski.
With the pair, the Toronto native, who is known as a shutdown defender, equaled his freshman goalscoring total.
“It lets you get more relaxed on the ice. you can make a play that you didn’t think you could make before because you have a little extra confidence. You can take a chance without thinking you are going to get in trouble because you start to learn that you have the speed to get back,” Sucharski said.
An effective power play was a huge boost for the Spartans, who entered the contest in a 2-for-20 (10%) mini-slump. MSU went 3-for-7 on the evening, getting two goals from the points.
“What we’re trying to do is simplify it and put traffic in front and shots on net,” said Comley. “We’ve been guilty of spreading out and passing like crazy and tonight we stacked the night and moved the puck until we could get shots through.”
MSU expanded the lead to 3-0 on a pair of power play goals.
Tim Kennedy corralled the puck behind the net and waited patiently for someone out front to break open. Instead, the defense backed off and the sophomore from Buffalo, N.Y. called “bank” and fired one off the goalie, Jason Smith, for his first of the season.
With just :37 left in the frame, Graham’s slapshot from the right point hit Smith in the shoulder and fluttered into the back of the net for MSU’s second power play goal of the period
The Spartans expanded their lead to 5-0 on Sucharski’s second and a Tim Crowder goal.
Sucharski’s tally came on a pretty tip. The puck was going wide to the stick side and he was able to redirect it through the keeper’s legs.
Crowder converted on a back-to-front feed from Justin Abdelkader after Smith got caught out of position trying to play the puck.
Then the tide turned a bit.
The Pios battled back for three in a row starting with Eric Giosa’s goal with 4 minutes left in the second. Giosa collected a pass from Alexandre Parent in the low slot, turned, and wired one over netminder Jeff Lerg.
At 19:34, Dave Jarman deflected a Dave Grimson shot directly into the ice. The bounding puck took a funny bounce that eluded a frustrated Lerg.
Parent kept the pressure on with a power play goal early in the third. The assistant captain received the puck at the top of the right circle and found the back of the net to make it 5-3.
Bryan Lerg stopped the bleeding at 9:13 with a mini-breakaway goal. The Spartans’ leading returning scorer deked, got Smith to bite, and flipped a backhand
Freshman Mike Ratchuk, a second-round draft pick of Philadelphia, followed with a power play goal on a rocket one-timer from the top of the right circle.
SHU responded with another two-goal burst, but that was as close as the Pioneers would get.
It’s hard to say that Jeff Lerg played well (15 saves on 20 shots), but all involved with the Spartans are confident that he will return to tip-top form once he begins to see some normal shots from normal angels in games with a bit more flow.
“I feel bad for Jeff right now. The puck is going in in just bizarre ways. One, I think, hit three people. I told him (sarcastically) at least they beat him clean,” said Comley. “It rattles a goalie but he’s such a good kid that hell work himself through it.”
Smith made some nice saves to keep SHU within striking distance but was overpowered in the end as his team had to gamble more and more. He finished with 31 saves on 38 shots.
Sacred Heart will host pre-season Atlantic Hockey favorite Mercyhurst in a crucial league series next weekend.
The Spartans can now turn their attention to bitter rival Michigan, who comes to Munn next Friday. The Wolverines will be without superstar defenseman Jack Johnson, who received a disqualification in Saturday’s loss to Northeastern.